Dir/scr: Pupi Avati. Italy, 2008. 104 mins.
Easily watchable but eminently forgettable, this period melodrama about a protective father besotted by his deranged daughter is bound to go the way of most previous Pupi Avati films: a respectable career in Italy followed by indifference elsewhere, despite featuring an emotionally-charged performance by Silvio Orlando which won him the best actor prize at Venice.
Set in Bologna during the Fascist era, Avati plays the story straight, without delving too deep into any of the darker undercurrents the premise holds out. Michele (Orlando), a high school teacher, is almost derailed by his concern for daughter Giovanna (Rohrwacher). Having suffered from mental problems since an early age, she has grown into a gawky teenager with serious communication problems which her father feels he must solve at any price. Obsessed by Giovanna's wellbeing, he neglects his loveless marriage to beautiful Delia (Neri), who has been exchanging longing - but chaste - glances with neighbour Sergio (Greggio), who also happens to be a police inspector.
One day, Giovanna's best friend is brutally murdered and soon after that the girl is arrested and confesses to the crime. She claims her action was fully justified because the other girl, prettier and richer than Giovanna, was trying to steal away the one boy who had ever showed any interest in her. She is only saved from the death penalty by her mental problems, and she is confined to an institution for an indefinite period. Michele promptly resigns from school and abandons his marriage to move nearby.
Having deliberately chosen to set his story during a particularly troublesome time in modern Italian history - 1938 to 1953 - Avati then only uses the Fascist regime Second World War as cursory backdrops to the story of an obsessive man who is barely affected by what is going on in the world around him unless it is related to his daughter.
Handsomely produced and shot in a monochromatic palette particularly attuned to the period, Giovanna's Father is a solid, conventional type of film, with one standout aspect - Orlando's performance as Michele, which is finely controlled and understated yet deeply moving and manages to hold the film together. Neither Neri nor Greggio (a popular TV figure in Italy) are given much room to play with their supporting parts, but to Alba Rohrwacher's credit, she plays Giovanna with an ambivalence which justifies, at times, both her father's commitment and her mother's rejection.
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